It was a bitter blow for one of Wodonga Senior Secondary College's top students.
Two subjects in to his final VCE exams, Wilbur Cribbes tested positive for COVID-19.
And that was the end of that ... he was robbed of one of the most important rites of passage for a Year 12 student at the conclusion of high school.
"It was pretty crazy," admits Wilbur, 17, who was double vaccinated and recovered quickly.
"I'd been going pretty well and was looking forward to the experience of sitting exams."
Wilbur will receive a derived examination score, applying for special consideration in these especially trying times.
He's still hoping to head to Melbourne to study sports science at Deakin University after a gap year in 2022.
Completing the VCE exams would have been a handy precursor to university study, he muses.
But that's the cloud of COVID.
Wilbur was on track "to be one of our highest performing students", says Wodonga Senior Secondary College (WSSC) assistant principal Nicole Jasinowicz.
"Luckily universities have been great this year," she says.
"I liken them to a cat - fragile but affectionate; they are very willing to help students and look at Year 11 results."
In the second part of a Border Mail reporton COVID-19's impact on education, Ms Jasinowicz acknowledges there have been many opportunities lost to Year 11 and 12 students in the past 18 months.
From school to sport and social events, COVID-19 has been a roller-coaster of restrictions, cancellations, missed milestones and revered rites of passage.
Research from the Faculty of Education found the necessary arrangements for COVID-safe learning, such as home schooling and cancelling in-person events, added an extra burden to the normal challenges and stresses faced by Year 12 students.
The ways students fared throughout the year varied, yet most reported hardship as a result of the disruptions.
"Some students felt that the significant challenges would impact their overall achievement, while others were disappointed by the missed opportunities, celebrations and rites of passage that symbolise the completion of compulsory schooling and this impacted their motivation and emotional engagement with learning," researcher Dr Fiona Longmuir reports.
Sea of uncertainty
AJ Martinelli-Walsh states bluntly that the pandemic has been a "train wreck" for him personally.
Snap lockdowns that accompanied COVID-19 cases on the Border have been particularly disruptive for the WSSC Year 11 student.
Finding it difficult to concentrate in the remote learning space, provisions were made for him to physically return to school.
"Staff were awesome in supporting me," AJ says.
He adds "it could have been worse" if vaccines didn't exist and focused his energy on encouraging others to wear masks.
Looking forward, he plans to focus his efforts on the environment and the "keen issue" of mental health.
The final year of schooling was "absolute hell" for talented theatre studies student Hannah Mulholland.
With half her subjects of a practical nature, she was faced with the nightmare of performance assessments being "pushed back and pushed back until they were all crammed in to one short space of time".
But she says teachers were "awesome" in helping re-plan and understanding "how much we had to do".
The much-anticipated school production was re-scheduled three times.
"I still wanted to do it but we had to keep all the lines in the back of our heads on top of exam stuff," says Hannah, who was nominated for best actress in a senior play in the annual Georgy Awards.
Hannah says recent snap lockdowns were "20 times harder" than extended remote learning in 2020.
That sentiment is echoed by Year 11 student Bella Jarvis who lost motivation with every snap closure.
"Not being at school made us realise how important it is," she says.
Baylee Van Malsem, who moved to the college in 2020 after being on exchange in the US, really struggled with the social isolation of at-home schooling.
"There was no way to form strong connections because of remote learning," she admits.
If there's an over-arching positive out of COVID-19, it's the recognition of the importance of the physical school space and the connections it creates, Ms Jasinowicz says.
Face-to-face learning and treasured traditions on the school calendar are just as important to teachers as they are to students, she adds.
"Teachers are at the point of burn-out and they need hope, she says.
"Those rituals and events - whether it be sport, debating, chess, drama, or music - give them a sense of purpose too and ignite their passion.
"It's inspiring to look at what we've achieved as a school; for us to look at what is social and emotional learning and for that to drive us forward."
Ms Jasinowicz says it's a privilege to work in the school environment:
"I'm proud to be among amazing students who have gotten on with it in the face of adversity ... and staff who every day thought of how do we make this the best possible experience we can."
There's still time
COVID-19 has only reinforced Le Minh Nguyen's dream to become a secondary school teacher.
Minh, 17, an international student from Vietnam, says he's coped relatively well with disruptions to his schooling and online learning.
He's disappointed that in his role as Year 11 Wanumarru House leader he hasn't had the chance to stage some events at school but figures "there's still time".
"My mental health, compared to others, has been better; I was able to re-encourage myself that with all the constant change, I still have another year," Minh says.
"I'm looking forward to Year 12 and feeling positive about turning 18."
Minh, who lives with a host family, says WSSC has supported students "really well" during the ups and downs of lockdowns.
"Totally yes," he says.
"We've been supported by teachers and all faculties doing everything they could to help us with our wellbeing and study needs.
"The IT desk was always available to help with tech issues too."
Earlier in the year Minh received a Principal's Award for his academic diligence and active involvement in school life, including his support of other international students.
In many ways, Minh reflects, navigating the challenges of COVID-19 has given him new skills to navigate a world beyond school.
I'm proud to be among amazing students who have just gotten on with it in the face of adversity ...Nicole Jasinowicz
He's learnt to manage his time better and create his own schedules for difficult tasks "so that I could keep on top of everything".
"I'm looking forward to using what I've gained to go to university, to get a job and develop my independence," he says.
So why a teacher?
"I like the areas of business, accounting, maths and science; this way I can do all the subjects!"
VCAL student Nelson Butterfield walked out of school and into a job at Bunnings.
He regrets much of his time had to be spent at home during his final year and that activities close to his heart - fundraising for the Black Dog Institute, Winter Solstice and Relay for Life - were shuffled around or cancelled.
But what he lost on one hand, he gained on the other; building skills in time management and daily planning have equipped him with invaluable tools for work - and life.
Ms Jasinowicz is looking forward to the next year levels coming through and "to making school a sound and wonderful experience again".
"But I have said to students who are leaving this experience is part of their life's story - it's unique and really quite incredible," she says.